There is great importance in creating inviting learning spaces for our children and students, however creating a learning space in the home can be difficult, especially if you feel like you just don’t have the space for it.
I teach preschool out of my home, and while I’d love to designate a room (or two or three) to be a formal preschool classroom, I simply cannot make that happen. My home is just not set up for such a space, but that doesn’t mean that it is non-functional in terms of having wonderful learning spaces that still serve me well for teaching preschool. With a little creativity, and maybe a tiny bit of money, a nurturing and inviting learning space can easily be created in any home, and I’m going to share with you how I have set up my home for teaching preschool when I don’t have any space to do it.
To keep things simple, I’m going to offer you a quick tour of my house…or, I mean, a quick tour of the learning spaces I have set up for my students. A little secret…almost nothing is permanent, meaning that mostly everything is mobile and can be hidden away during non-preschool hours.
Learning space for free choice centers
This is a picture of the front room if you are standing on the door mat in my entryway. When we purchased this house, my husband and I originally had intended to make this room into a reading room where we would have big cozy couches and lots of bookcases and low-lit lamps perfect for reading. But, that obviously hasn’t happened, which is ok, and it is now more of a playroom for my children and also for my preschool students.
On the far side is a book case with educational toys on it. These, as well as everything else in this room, are available to my students during free choice centers. However, these are the same toys my own children play with on a regular basis. The piano is mostly off limits to my students, as it was my grandfather’s, but I do play it for my students. The wooden kitchen is this one by KidKraft. My students and children love it. Stored inside are three baskets of play food and dishes.
This is the other side of the front room, if you are standing in front of the piano. Yes, it is sparse, there is plenty of room, you may be thinking, but the open space is intentional. At the beginning of the school year, I really limit the options for free choice centers. I use these limited choices as an opportunity to teach my preschoolers how to “use” the toys properly, (as in we don’t throw them, or dump them without cleaning up, etc). As the school year progresses, I offer more and more free choice centers. While not in use, extra centers get stored in the garage, or even above my kitchen cabinets. Luckily, a high molding around the top of my kitchen cabinets hides my preschool supplies nicely.
Here are some of my favorite educational toys for centers, but are also easy to pack away for store if needed, great for small learning spaces:
Most of the above toys fit nicely into small storage totes, so clean up is a breeze and so is storage. All of those toys also pack a lot of “educational punch” into any learning space, as they are open ended toys and encourage creativity, cooperation, and problem solving, as well as help to develop social skills.
This is the bookcase seen in the first photo. It sits between the wall and the piano. Again, the toys are limited, but that is by design, and I always give a lot of thought to what toys to have set out at any given time. On these shelves are some math toys, puzzles, a latch board, musical toys, a camping set and in the green basket on the floor are the dress-up clothing. (Someday, I will build a beautiful dress-up center space where the clothing, jewelry and hats can be hung, like this See and Store Dress-Up Center Color: Natural, but until then a basket will have to do).
Here are some of the actual toys I have on these shelves:
I’ve selected these toys because they are timeless and my children and preschoolers love playing with them. They serve well as both entertainment for my children and education for my preschoolers. Throughout the school year, more toys get added, and some get rotated out. And while not pictured here, several themed related toys and learning trays get rotated in and out throughout the month.
Learning space with preschool table and/or rotating centers
This is the preschool table that sits in my kitchen. It is similar to this Rectangular Activity Table. During preschool hours, my dinner table gets pushed back slightly and this table gets pulled out. I am fortunate to have plenty of room for both tables in my kitchen, but if you don’t have this luxury, consider a child sized folding table and folding chairs, like this set: Children’s Folding Table & Folding Chairs Furniture Set. I own this set in addition to the preschool table pictured. It is perfect for small learning spaces because it can be folded away when not in use.
These preschool tables are also where I may set up writing or art centers, sensory centers, or extra theme related centers. These centers are designed to be packed into small totes when not in use, to make for easy clean up on my part. More posts will follow about these rotating centers.
Learning space for circle time
This is the learning space that always seems to be of the most interest to my readers. It is our circle time area and it is completely mobile. Everything you see in the above photo is tucked into a closet during non-preschool hours. That is because this is in my family room. By now, you have walked past the front room, through the kitchen, and are now in my back room where the TV is, as well as another set of toys that are mostly for my children, and less for my preschoolers.
To the left of the photo, (sorry it is not pictured), is a big bin of theme-related books for my preschoolers. Other than that, the toys in this room are mostly for my baby, with the exception of William and Corinne’s “special toys” that they prefer not to share with the preschool. (We have a “no toys in the bedroom” policy at our house).
In the above photo, on the left side, is a folding easel whiteboard. It is most like this one, BestRite Oak Presentation Easel. Mine has adjustable legs, but in the photo it is actually propped upside down to make it lower enough that I can teach from sitting on the floor with my students. You may find that something like this one Folding 2-in-1 Child’s Easel – Magnetic Whiteboard & Black Chalkboard is more appropriate for your space and needs. Both of these easels can be folded up and stored during non-schooling hours, which it why I love them both. On my easel, I have placed two large Command Plastic Hooks to hold two chart paper tablets. (One of those chart paper tablets is for letter rhymes, the other is full or songs and poems I use for oral language development. More posts to follow about those).
The sitting mats are mats that I made out of scraps of extra fabric, but you can just as easily buy some place mats at the dollar store. They obviously get rolled up and stored when not in use.
Finally, on the right side of the photo is a tri-fold presentation board that I use for my circle time board. I have one for the weather/calendar/reading, and a second for math. Both these boards work well as a bulletin board and can easily be stored in a closet, under a bed, or even behind a book case when not needed.
Finding space in your home for learning
With a little creativity, I think everyone can find some space in their home that can be designated for learning. For those of you who have in-home daycare or preschools, you understand how important it is that learning spaces double in utility. The majority of toys I have for preschool are toys my children normally play with. My children eat lunch and do homework at the preschool table. And during non-preschool hours our back family room is used for family games and watching television. During a non-preschool day, my home looks just like any other house. You wouldn’t really guess that I teach preschool out of my home were it not for the sign by the front door.
Yes, it can sometimes be tedious to put things away or have to pull them out for specific activities, but if there is a designated place to store all your materials when they are not in use, it is easier to maintain a “mobile classroom“. It is easier to create learning spaces in your home when you feel like you have no space. My point is, everyone has space. You just have to commit and create that learning space, or spaces as the case may be.
I am Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home mama of five! I am the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught range of levels, including preschool and college, and a little bit of just about everything in between. Right now, my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction